It was a typical frigid harmattan morning in Abuja. The day was still waiting to break so it was dark when the cab driver pulled up in front of a plaza in Wuse II, which was to be the takeoff point of my friends and I. Our friend was getting married in Delta State, you see, so a number of us were to travel together with a hired minibus.
It seemed I was the first one to arrive but before I realised this, I had seen two women standing a few yards away from the gate of the plaza, just before the car stopped.
“Those may be my friends,” I remember saying to the driver.
“Ah, Aunty…” he replied with obvious cautiousness, “you sure? Those babes, na ashana them be o…”
Ehn? Ashana ke…
I looked at them again, noticing they didn’t have the typical ‘look’ prostitutes are depicted to have.
“Sister,” he said hesitantly, “you sure say this place good so? Call your friend, make we know where she dey.”
I took my phone out of my handbag and proceeded to do so. I don’t remember if she picked up or not or if her number was unreachable. I just know I was still stuck in a dire situation after all said and done.
“Make I carry my bag from boot,” I told him, my heart slowly beginning to fill with apprehension.
We both got out of the car after he popped the lever to open the boot. He took out my suitcase and handed it to me.
“You no want make I wait?” he asked again. “Make day break small…”
I thought hard about it. It was dark and lonely and if he left, apart from those women, it would be just me. Also, it seemed the gate of the plaza was locked, so the option of me waiting inside was ruled out. I desperately wanted him to wait with me but I knew that would require me paying for his extra time. I had no spare cash on me, save for my cab fare. My plan had been to use the ATM as soon as I could find one. Preferably in daylight.
So I turned down his offer to wait with me.
“OK,” he said finally as I gave him his money. “Happy Christmas.”
He drove away while I rolled my suitcase, deciding to wait at the gate of the plaza, whose security lights were thankfully switched on.
So there I was, a thousand and one things running through my head, my pashmina wrapped tightly around me—whether it was to ward off the cold or my fears is open for debate. I hadn’t been waiting for too long when a black sleek sedan pulled up in front of the two women who had been there earlier. I watched them walk to the car, one leaning through the front passenger window. There was a brief exchange before the girls walked away from the car, back to their previous position. The car drove away from them…and pulled up right in front of me.
I watched warily, waiting for something to happen, while also calculating what I would do if something actually did happen. However, the occupant/s of the car did nothing, staying put. The car remained turned on, though and the tinted windows remained rolled up. I was confused and scared at the same time, my eyes darting to the left and right.
Did they think I was a prostitute? Probably.
Were they waiting for me to approach them to offer my ‘services’?
Luckily, the space between the pavement and the main road was significant…ish. So the car wasn’t terribly close. I noticed the other two ladies kept glancing at me. I looked everywhere else except at them and the car—the floor, the sky, to my right, behind me. Anywhere but at any of them.
Hei Father; why didn’t I just allow that man to wait?
Hei God! What if they use me for rituals?!
I’m actually going to kill my friend! Why did she tell us to be here this early if she and everyone else would be late?
Eventually, after what seemed like a decade, whoever was in the car drove away and I heaved a massive sigh of relief…until another car pulled up. This time, however, the front passenger window rolled down to reveal a young lady I had never seen before.
“Hi!” she said pleasantly. “Are you also going to Delta?”
I tell you, I nearly broke down in tears of gratitude to God.
“Yes!” I replied. I was sure I looked like an agama lizard with the way my head bobbed up and down in excitement.
“You’ve been waiting here all by yourself?” she asked in horror. “Oh my God! Please come in, come in! Come, come, come!”
She didn’t even have to ask once! I was already rolling myself and my suitcase to the car. Introductions were quickly made and my suitcase went into the boot. I squeezed into the front passenger seat with her as there were already three people in the back seat.
“Is there a bank anywhere near here?” I asked after we had all lamented about how dangerous the situation was. “I really need to use the ATM.”
“Oh, yes,” the lady’s sister, who was driving, replied. “There’s a GT Bank behind us.”
We immediately left the plaza for the bank. Thankfully, at the ATM there weren’t a lot of us waiting to do transactions. I was the last in line, right after a young guy.
“Hi,” he said, looking at me and simultaneously using the machine, his overwhelming smell of weed and stale alcohol filling my nostrils.
I didn’t know what to make of the look in his eyes. I offered a tight, wary smile, glancing at him briefly before swiftly looking away, alarm bells going off in my head. I did a quick mental calculation—I recalled seeing a security guard at the entrance of the bank.
“What’s a beautiful girl like you doing out this early?”
Oh Lord, I don’t even have the energy for this, this morning.
“Or are you just coming from work?” he added with a snicker, in a pseudo-American accent.
It took a few seconds for me to realise the implication of his question—are you just coming from ‘work’?
Mind you, I was dressed in a t-shirt and knee-length skirt with my pashmina still wrapped around me, in case that counts for anything. He kept trying to engage me in conversation. I, in turn, kept trying to discourage him by remaining silent while also attempting to maintain a facial expression that wouldn’t be interpreted as something that would put my safety in jeopardy. I kept my head bowed, mentally willing him to hurry up and leave. He seemed bent on taking his sweet, precious time, though. It seemed deliberate, might I add.
“Can I just do what I came here to do, please?” I eventually said with a touch of impatience.
And that was it. That was all it took for his dam to burst.
“What the f**k is wrong with you Nigerian girls?” he yelled as he gave way at the machine so I could take my turn. “You always think you’re all that!”
…and on and on…
Some people think the best way to deal with a harasser is by outrightly being hostile. Maybe. But, sometimes, for the sake of your safety, it’s wiser to do the complete opposite. I stayed quiet, working mechanically—insert bank card, punch pin, select ‘savings’—while also praying the machine would be faster. I was finally done and began to make my way out of the bank and back to the car. The man was no longer anywhere close by…until I got to the entrance of the bank and there he was…
…with two other men.
Men who seemed as volatile and erratic as he was.
“Who do you think you are?” one of the other men shouted with antagonism.
“We’ll mess you up!” the other hissed, lunging at me, in an attempt to scare me.
I think I even heard one say something about my father. I had to put up a façade of bravado, pretending to be nonchalant but I was terrified. I was also angry. And I felt humiliated.
At that moment and even till now, over two years after that event, I wished many things.
I wished lightning would just strike them instantly.
I wished the occurrence didn’t get to me. But it did. It really, really did.
I wished women never had to go through things like this. I wished we were free to turn down unwanted advances of men without the fear of being bullied or harassed by the rejected.
I wished we could stand up for ourselves in the face of harassment without the risk of incurring danger on ourselves.
I wished I knew Kung Fu…or Taekwondo—I wanted to be able to scatter all their teeth.
Instead, I did the only thing I was able to do without wishing—I remained silent and walked quickly towards the car. I just wanted to get away from there.